Monrovia - The National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) had its second session on Thursday September 5, 2013 at the Council Headquarters to deliberate on the ongoing case involving Managing Editor of FrontPageAfrica imprisoned following the Supreme Court of Liberia ruling upholding the judgment of Civil Law Court which ruled Mr. Rodney Sieh guilty of US$1.5 million libel sue in favor of former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Chris Toe. Dr. Toe filed a US$2 million United States dollars libel sue against the Mr. Sieh and FPA after it lifted a story in which the paper quoted the General Auditing Commission (GAC) report that allegedly indicted Dr. Toe as Agriculture Minister of financial wrongdoing.
The NCSCL comprising of 1450 organizations clustered by network and non-network membership across the fifteen counties raised a number of critical issues following two strategic dates of deliberation on the issue mentioned and is pleased to bring to the attention of the Liberian people and our international partners concerns and position surrounding the issue relating to Mr. Rodney Sieh incarceration, the closure of the FPA and the allege corruption against Dr. Chris Toe:
1. The Council acknowledges that the case involving Mr. Sieh and Dr. Toe though considered as an issue between two citizens, yet believed that it has a greater implications that go beyond the interest of the two individuals, owing to the fact that its genesis evolved from a corruption scandal in the Army Worm attacked on Bong and Lofa Counties, which has been investigated by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) and findings reported.
2. The Council also recognized that Mr. Sieh failed to exhaust the full legal procedures of the case up to the Supreme Court but instead pejoratively expressed lack of confidence in the Supreme Court based on his opinion. Despite of Mr. Sieh doubt of the verdict of the Court, we believe that the due process of law should have been followed. An affront to the Supreme Court is disrespectful and should not be condoned by any citizen.
3. Furthermore the Council raises alarm over the history of excessive fines in all libel cases in Liberia tracing especially those pursued by public officials in this administration, coupled with the sustained guilty verdicts against the Media, Civil Society and Whistle Blowers who are the moral grantors of a functional and sustain democracy;
4. The NCSCL and its membership in general highlight serious concern that these law sues emerged from critical media reportage and civil society advocacy that are meant to ensure the full implementation of the findings of government reports emanating from legally established public entities such as GAC, LACC, PPCC, etc; financed by tax payers and donors funds.
5. The NCSCL membership also noted that the sustained law sues and guilty verdicts on the moral guarantors of a democracy like Liberia do not only undermine free press but also hinder the fight against corruption, promotion of free speech and vigilant public action aim at ensuring a wholesome functioning society.
6. The NCSCL and civil society are also concerned over statement made by the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General that audit reports of the GAC lacks sufficient evidence to prosecute indictees; but at the same time also mentioned that the legal department of the ministry is currently reviewing audit reports presented by the GAC for possible prosecution.
7. The Council is further concern about the validity of the GAC Audit Reports submitted to the World Bank, IMF and international community to complete HIPC and get US$4.9 billion in debt relief and has been used to prosecute other cases of the government. Which one lacks sufficient evidence, is it Dr. Chris Toe case or what?
8. In keeping with recent pronouncement of Government officials that the General Auditing Report lacks sufficient evidence to prosecute indictees, the NCSCL members call for an immediate new and thorough investigation of the Army Worm Funds by an Independent Committee of experts drawn from civil society, the media, private sector and government stakeholders to clarify corruption claims and counter claims.
9. The Council members also noted that the US$1.5 million guilty verdict is not only excessive but violates article 21 of the Liberian constitution and the African Chapter on Human and People’s Rights. Article 21 of the constitution “excessive bail shall not be required, non-excessive fines imposed, non-excessive punishment inflected” the African Charter “sanctions shall never be so severe as to inhibit the rights of freedom of expression, including by others”; The US$1.5 million restitution by prison term which means each month US$25.00 will take Mr. Sieh 60,000 years to complete the prison term. The Council believe that verdict is too harsh and severe and tantamount to a death sentence or life imprisonment.
10. The CSOs also indicated that the FPA Vs Dr. Toe libel sue verdict further highlights action for all stakeholders to press for comprehensive and sustain reform of the entire judicial system in a manner that restore the system credibility for Liberians and foreign residence alike.
11. Finally the CSOs is noting that given the consent by Dr. Toe and the FPA to initiate a reconciliatory dialogue to end the current saga, in light of the concerns raised above, call for the immediate release of Journalist Rodney Sieh and the reopening of the FPA.
The National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) is the umbrella organization of all civil society in Liberia recognized by all civil society, government and international organizations in the country.
Rev. Chris W. Toe, I,